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This week, as millions of college students headed back to school, Newsweek/The Daily Beast released its College Rankings 2011, with categories including Most Service-Oriented, Most Beautiful, Future CEOs, and — most important to us — Best College Food, honoring those schools that “go above and beyond to make it great.” We are proud to say that on that list of 25, Bon Appétit Management Company teams feed a whopping eight of them:

Recently at Seattle University, Bon Appétit Management Company and Slow Food Seattle cosponsored a free showing of the new documentary Vanishing of the Bees, which was directed by George Langworthy and Maryam Heinen and narrated by actress Ellen Page. An astonishing 350 people attended the showing and the panel discussion with local beekeepers that followed.

Bon Appétit Management Company is pleased to announce that it has joined the campaign for Food Day, a nationwide celebration of real food and an effort to improve health, the environment, and America’s food system. It’s a grassroots mobilization to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. On October 24, 2011, people will gather at events big and small and from coast to coast in homes, schools, colleges, churches, city halls, farmers markets, supermarkets, and elsewhere to both learn and advocate.

I eagerly returned for this summer’s eighth annual trip with other Bon Appétit staff to visit and dine with Shepherd’s Grain farmers in Washington State. On our excursion to Eastern Washington, Bon Appétit chefs, managers, and I visited the Spokane Hutterian Brethren Colony in Reardan, WA, where the Grosses, Hofers, and Walters uphold their collective 460-plus-year family tradition in farming, growing crops on 9,000 acres and living a self-sufficient lifestyle. I love this trip because – like many conscientious eaters today – I like to know where my food comes from. It’s a rare treat to be among 75 farmers and chefs who put the meaning of their work so eloquently into words.

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When Jonas Stoltzfus of JuJo Acres in Loysville, PA, walked straight up to his non-castrated breeding bull and gave it a nice pat on the back, I knew I wasn’t on an ordinary farm.

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What do local farms have to do with kitchen safety? Both farmers and food service providers have a responsibility to keep their customers from becoming sick — and the better you know those customers, the heavier that responsibility weighs. In addition, the more Bon Appétit employees know about the farmers and artisans who provide the food served in the cafés, the more they can inspire customers to support these local heroes. Supporting local food producers rewards our community with tastier, safer food that contributes to our local economy. Employees of Bon Appétit at Duke University in Durham, NC, recently had the opportunity to connect food safety and farming first hand

Although available year round, fresh asparagus during the peak season is an unmatched delight so this spring, Chef Kiley Davis of Kaneko Commons and I set out to find the best local asparagus for our kitchens here at Willamette University in Salem, OR. We found it during a visit to Kenagy Family Farms, located just 45 minutes south in Albany, OR.

Professor-student ratios. Numbers of Nobel Prize winners. Percentage of graduates who get jobs in their fields. These are all criteria that prospective college students care about. But in addition to stuffing their heads with knowledge, they want to eat well during their four (or more) expensive years on campus. And that’s why Bon Appétit Management Company is very proud to report that our dining services at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, have been named Best College Food by the 122,000 students polled for the highly influential Princeton Review list of The Best 376 Colleges.

Case Western Reserve University in Cleaveland, OH, and its Bon Appétit team were recently awarded the grand prize in the residential dining concepts category at the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards luncheon held in Dallas, TX. The judges’ criteria included menu concepts, merchandising and presentation, marketing, nutrition and wellness programs, as well as sustainability goals and an overall “wow” factor.

Mike Tabor, an activist-turned farmer, first realized the problems with the quality of food in our public school systems about 20 years ago. He has been working on farm to cafeteria legislation ever since, and started his own organic farm in Needmore, PA. He sells to Bon Appétit through our Farm to Fork Program.